Soccer / National Team / Kashtan Agonizes Over Loss to Finland

National team coach Dror Kashtan seemed visibly upset yesterday during the flight home from the friendly match between Israel and Finland, in which the Israelis lost 2-0.

Upon arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport he told reporters that his players were not in good physical condition and asked the media not to lash out at the bad performance in the friendly.

"Most of them had not trained," he said. "They were tired and at best had maybe one training session."

The Israeli team, whose Achilles' heal has been defending against high crosses into the penalty area, conceded two such goals from Finland.

"It's a matter of bad concentration on the part of the defenders," Kashtan said. "We'll deal with it."

Kashtan thinks that the team's defense is much weaker than its offense and has told friends that he believes Israel would have qualified for the World Cup if it had better defenders.

Perhaps Kashtan's best player, Yossi Benayoun, is giving him his biggest headache; Kashtan does not know where to play the Liverpool midfielder.

In the match against Finland Benayoun was kept back and displayed impressive defensive skills, preventing two goals, a huge improvement from when he was deemed a defensive liability. Indeed, against the physically stronger European players, Benayoun has to contribute defensively. But positioning him so far in the back prevents him from taking full part on offense.

Meanwhile, the old rivalry between Dudu Aouate and Nir Davidovich flared up as many observers speculated that Aouate will be in goal during Israel's next international match. When asked what he thought about Kashtan's decision to play Aouate instead of him, Davidovich looked irritated and told reporters he preferred not to talk about it.

Rivalry between Davidovich and Aouate runs deep as the two have competed against each other on every level since childhood.